Local union leaders criticize plan to remove telework for state workers
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Local union leaders are criticizing a plan to remove telework options for state employees in New Mexico.
“We don’t agree with this at all, and our members are very upset,” said Dan Secrist.
Secrist is the president of the Local 7076 chapter of Communication Workers of America. The Union represents more than 2,000 state employees across more than a dozen state departments.
In a letter sent to Secrist last week, State Personnel director Theresa Padilla says the state is planning to rescind its statewide, non-mandatory telework policy on January 1, 2023.
A second letter was sent to state workers saying the state is offering union leaders a chance to bargain the effects of the change, not the change itself.
“Our position is that this policy exists,” Secrist said. “It was bargained into existence. Therefore, it has to be bargained out of existence if it’s going to disappear, and frankly, we don’t think it should go away.”
A spokesperson with the governor’s office says the state’s telework policy was introduced during the pandemic – before the widespread availability of vaccinations, booster shots, and antiviral treatments.
In a statement to KOB 4, Padilla said:
“It’s critical the state government is consistently available and responsive to constituents.”
Padilla confirmed only 38% of state employees are utilizing telework options – both full-time and part-time.
New Mexico House Republican leaders criticized the state’s telework policy earlier this year. They claimed the number of state employees working remotely is negatively impactive several state services.
Union representatives say remote work is not the problem.
“The problem is that there are not enough people, not enough workers to do all the work, period,” Secrist said.
Padilla says there are 5,195 open positions across all state departments right now – that’s a nearly 24% vacancy rate.
Secrist says removing telework options will drive away new workers and make the state of New Mexico a less competitive employer.
“[Teleworking] is part of what workers expect in the new working environment, and when they can’t get it, they can go elsewhere,” Secrist said.
Union representatives say they’ve also heard from numerous current employees who are willing to quit over this new change.
Local 7076 Vice President Megan Green says removing telework options would be the last straw for some employees – especially ones teleworking from Albuquerque.
“They have realized in terms of work-life balance, their life is more important than spending two hours commuting every day,” Green said.
Secrist and Green both agree some state positions do not need telework options – especially ones that require face-to-face interactions. However, they believe taking away the option for all state workers will cause more harm in the long run.
“Just like the administration states, we also want a robust and effective state government,” Green said. “We just don’t think this is the path to achieve that when employees have other options elsewhere and will entertain them if needed.”